The Concept Black turntable represents the newest and most affordable offering from Germany’s prolific maker of all things analog, Clearaudio. Concept has a particularly interesting back story. When it debuted in 2009, near the start of the analog revival, it was positioned as an entry-level plug-’n’-play model. Marketed to first-timers, it was shipped preset from Clearaudio’s factory in Germany. Primed for action with the cartridge mounted and adjusted and a magnetic-bearing tonearm set to the correct tracking force, you might say it was as painless to operate as slipping a CD in a tray. As the analog renaissance began to ramp up, more intrepid and demanding buyers began revisiting their audio dealers, and Clearaudio realized that the Concept needed to evolve to reach a widening market.
Today’s Concept turntable is much more than a one-size-fits-all proposition. It’s now available in multiple tonearm-and-cartridge packages, ranging from the standard model with Concept tonearm and Concept V2 moving-magnet cartridge ($1800) to the model reviewed here, outfitted with the snazzy Satisfy Black tonearm and Charisma V2 moving-magnet cartridge at $3800. The versions with Concept tonearms can ship with the cartridge pre-installed and calibrated at Clearaudio’s factory in Bavaria. Concepts with the Satisfy tonearm and no cartridge installed require cartridge setup (see below).
Nearly a decade has passed since the Concept’s debut, and much has changed in the turntable, including an upgraded all-aluminum sub-chassis (formerly it was plastic) for greater rotational accuracy—the result of a more precise fit between the sub-chassis and the platter bearing, and an increased flywheel effect. Speed calibration has also been re-routed from an awkward adjustment beneath the ’table to three easily accessible trim pots on the rear of the plinth.
Compared with many contemporary LP rigs equipped with a befuddling array of adjustments, outboard motor(s), and multiple armboards, the Concept appears almost quaint. In my view, it’s a model of how a mid-priced turntable should look—beautifully proportioned, extremely easy to operate, and light but not flimsy. I’ve always preferred an enclosed chassis design, and Concept has engineered a clean elegant line with a minimum of accents and badging. The base is low profile—all the better to accentuate the heavy platter and Satisfy Black tonearm. The Concept’s modest dimensions require a minimum of rack space, too. A simple dial on the lower left corner of the platform selects the rotational speed of the platter, which includes 78rpm as well as the usual 33 and 45rpm.
The Satisfy Black tonearm installed on my review sample uses a three-point mechanical bearing with polished tungsten points seated on a ruby thrust pad. According to Clearaudio this tonearm requires greater precision and labor to assemble and calibrate, making it capable of extracting more performance from higher-quality cartridges.
Did I just say cartridges? You heard right. Indeed, I received a pair of Clearaudio cartridges—the Essence mc ($1500) and the Charisma V2 mm ($2000). Briefly, the Essence is a tuned version of the standard-issue Concept moving coil that features tighter specs, dual coils wound with PC-OCC copper, a boron cantilever, and a line-contact stylus. It combines the same aluminum-magnesium alloy with ceramic surface-layer body material as Clearaudio’s $5500 Da Vinci V2 moving coil. Output is 0.42mV.
Clearaudio literature describes the Charisma V2 as founder Peter Suchy’s moving-magnet masterpiece. It uses the same boron cantilever and double-polished Gyger S stylus found in the Goldfinger Statement mc. Handmade in Clearaudio’s German factory, the generator utilizes high-efficiency, precisely matched magnets. They are housed in a special, mass-loaded ebony-wood body with silver inlay for added mass and resonance control. Output is 3.6mV.